When my daughter was learning to read, a friend of ours gave her a bounty of beginners reading books; everything from Clifford to Disney to Brown Bear. Of all the books to gravitate towards, our then four-year-old daughter became obsessed with this book about the city of Pompeii. I’m still not sure why this was so fascinating for her, but she had us read it to her daily to the point where she soon memorized the book front to back.
I’m not going to pretend to understand how this fascination blossomed. Before this point it was all Dora and princesses and rainbows everywhere, so for her to become entranced in the realities of explosions and chaos and death was odd.
The following year, her mother and I took a trip to Europe with some friends and it just so happened that we were able to hike Mount Vesuvius and tour the ruins of Pompeii. Our daughter, still every bit obsessed, was extremely jealous. We decided to take her (and her sister) with us, not literally but in the form their faces preserved in plastic. We took their pictures all over that volcano and all over that city and when we got home it was as if they had been there with us. Having their faces with us made the distance between us a little less enormous and seeing their actual faces light up when they saw pictures of themselves buried in the rubble was the coolest ‘welcome home’ present.
Being in that city and on that volcano was awe inspiring, to say the least. To take in the gravity of what took place in that space all those years ago couldn’t help but fill one with a sense of complete awareness of their size in the world.
Years later and every time the city of Pompeii is mentioned I smile. Weird reaction, I know, but it’s linked to a happy memory for me. So, when my wife and I spotted the board game The Downfall of Pompeii at our local Barnes and Nobles we felt compelled to snatch it up and play it with the family.
I still don’t know what I feel about this game.
There are many game mechanics that don’t work for me (or annoy me) but really it’s the glee my kids get from throwing each other into the deadly volcano that gives me the most pause. I understand wanting to win and all, but this is a bit extreme. I’ll admit, I get caught up in it as well, and when it comes time to lay down the lava pieces I do find myself purposefully placing tiles in areas that make survival all but impossible, but I’m not proud of it. And the fights that ensue between my kids as they single each other out for volcanic sacrifice is enough to make me swear off game night altogether.
You didn’t see this coming, did you?
The Downfall of Pompeii shouldn’t be a terrible game. As morbid as I find the whole thing, the concept is kind of interesting. The goal of the game is to populate the city of Pompeii and then once the volcano erupts to evacuate all your players before the city is covered in lava. I just wish the whole exercise weren’t so monotonous. The back and forth gameplay of ‘draw a card, place down a player piece’ becomes boring rapidly, and when you’re playing with kids who take ten minutes to decide a place to lay down their player pieces it becomes almost excruciating. And don’t get me started on the confusing rules with regards to how many pieces you can place at a time and where on the board you can place them.
Many aspects of the game are confusing, and unnecessarily so at that. When you have to read the instructions EVERY SINGLE TIME you shuffle the deck because that process is ridiculously complex (there is not only a whole page dedicated to this process, but a drawn diagraph as well), you know you have a problem.
My kids love this game, even though every time we play it the night dissolves into bickering and hurt feelings. I want to love this game simply because it’s very existence makes me think of happier memories, but when my kids suggest this game I cringe, inside and out.